Soundwalks at metro de la Concorde in Laval, QC
Soundwalks at metro de la Concorde.
Part of the Audioparc event at Galerie Verticale in Laval, commissioned by Magali Babin.
I want to propose the notion of “balade sonore” as French translation for the English term soundwalk. Instead of “marche sonore” which seems a bit too military, or promenade, which evokes the idea of walking to show oneself, or even “dérive” in which like the Situationists one might seek to be completely lost or disoriented, I like the idea of “balader” … to do a “balade” –which has the same root in French as the word for song. A balade is also a way of slowing down. A balade is a bit vague. Not exactly lost, but not at all rushed. Slow, attentive, alert to all sounds, with all senses, all sensations.
A balade sonore or soundwalk is a form of creation and method of research that utilizes listening and sometimes recording as a way to explore a place on foot. Each soundwalk can be considered in a musical fashion, as a mnemonic tool, or as a source of information about the environment. People’s listening experiences can become the point of departure for conversations that bring together the epistemological, aesthetic and ethical dimensions of the places where sounds are found, and these same dimensions can be found in the detailed reflections of participants in soundwalks, in listening sessions afterwards, and in reaction to artworks which come from soundwalks.
There are many ways to listen. One can listen like a musician, thinking of the melodies, harmonies and rhythms of the sonic environment. One can create a musical piece out of the sounds heard. One can listen sensually, like a poet, linking senses — the touch of sound, the noises of images, the taste of a location. One can listen to sounds politically, thinking of which sounds mask others, which are more present, which dominate. Because we walk in a group, we can reflect on the internal dynamics of that structure. What can one hear of the group> Does this structure give our listening a certain dynamic or constrain it? One can listen historically to the place, thinking of the history of a certain place or culture, one can imagine its history, the people who lived there before, the sounds that are now gone, changed, or amplified. It is also possible to create imaginary bridges between different sounds, sonic resemblances that connect spaces separated in time and space, one place calling to another, echoing, producing an imaginary place in between that has characteristics of each. And one can listen as if listening to a lover. One can reserve a certain sort of attention, a certain kind of intent listening towards the sonic environment, which resembles the kind of listening that we do in the company of someone we love. With the Soundwalking Interactions project, we wish to concentrate our attention on the participants of soundwalks, and wish to talk to them about their different intentions and their specific responses to the sonic environment, their approaches to listening while moving through places.
I walked in the area around Metro de la Concorde in Laval, several times between June and September 2012. Here are some comments on what I heard during those walks.
La Route Verte.
Everyone loves the colour green. Close to the metro, there is a “route verte”, a cycling path that is also accessible to pedestrians. But I ask myself here, what does green signify in this context? A narrow asphalt laneway between barriers, cloistered between railway and parking lots, barriers of 2 to 3 metres in height, made of plastic and steel. Perhaps it is a green route just because of its very existence, a way that permits cyclists to quickly go from one place to another. But for pedestrians, who gain access only at street corners, there is no way out for long stretches, everything is closed off. Is this a green experience?
Close to here, I stand under large electrical structures while late-summer insects sing in the weeds underneath. Many insects, signalling the end of summer and beginning of school. Buzzing like electricity.
I think about the paths and what they might mean. There are ornamental paths that go nowhere, aesthetic paths of reddish stone that lead to a fence blocking the route or go round in circles. Will l listen differently on those paths? (self-consciously perhaps) Will my listening be more open or more linear, in between the lines? On escalators, rising and falling next to each other in the metro, is my listening directed by the rhythms felt underfoot?
There are different modes of transport integrated here: train, subway, buses, cars, pedestrians, cyclists. Which are most important in the design of the metro? Who uses this place at what times? According to what I found, after the 9 am rush finishes, it is cyclists who pass through most in the morning, around the metro itself. A bit further off, the sound of traffic is constant. There is little movement in the parking area after rush hour. Pedestrians walk from one entrance to another, but few seem to frequent the pleasant sitting space with wooden walkways and benches surrounded by tall grasses and subway vents, near the metro door.
A string of pearls
I think of our soundwalk near the Metro as like a string of pearls, where each sonic moment is one pearl on the string. Moments of listening stillness, moments of group listening-walking, moments where we stand and comment on what we have heard. Each moment has a distinct ambience, made of the movements of the group, the sounds of the environment, other sensations, and the effects of the commentary. The de la Concorde soundwalk contained many of these pearls, each a few minutes long, held together by listening. Walkers spoke of the eerie quietness of the residential area nearby, the lack of pedestrians on the street compared with more downtown locations. Walkers also remarked on the long length of the blocks, made more on car scale than on pedestrian. The most ubiquitous sound on the soundwalk was that of cars (comme toujours!) Close to the metro, people remarked on the strange and other-worldly breathing and creaking noises made by the subway vents, sounds that we heard as well in the installation of Jen Reimer and Max Stein.
The soundwalk was followed by a different soundwalk led by Eric Leonardson of Chicago, focused through interaction with stones picked up at the site, on the hill next to a vent (and replaced there afterwards). The group moved from one part of the site to another, clicking the stones to activate the architecture acoustically, at times conducted by Leonardson who asked different parts of the group to play to each other.